What’s Most Important: the Schedule or the People?

27 09 2013

In chapter two of MINISTERING CROSS-CULTURALLY, Lingenfelter and Mayers contrast Time-Orientation with Event-Orientation.

TIME-ORIENTATION

  1. Concern for punctuality and amount of time expected
  2. Careful allocation of time to achieve the maximum within set limits
  3. Tightly scheduled, goal-directed activities
  4. Rewards offered as incentives for efficient use of time
  5. Emphasis on dates and history

EVENT-ORIENTATION

  1. Concern for details of the event, regardless of time required
  2. Exhaustive consideration of a problem until resolved
  3. A “let come what may” outlook not tied to any precise schedule
  4. Stress on completing the event as a reward in itself
  5. Emphasis on present experience rather than the past or future

Like most European-Americans, I am more Time than Event in orientation, and I am surrounded by people and culture pretty much the same. So when I go to plan a meeting, I am blind to the fact that not everyone has the same expectations, especially where that meeting is an intercultural one. I remember many times in rural Kenya where our pastoral training conferences would start anywhere from one to three hours after the stated starting time. But the actual starting time was when a sufficient number of pastors arrived and greetings exchanged. We missionaries would sweat it out, wondering how we would cover all our material in the time remaining (no wonder we expatriates are called “wazungu,” which refers to those who go around in circles!).

What are the implications for ministry settings, be they multi-ethnic churches or mission agencies seeking to “internationalize”? More often than not (I would guess) those convening the gathering are of a Time orientation. We set out the purpose of the meeting and design a schedule to achieve it. We set the ground rules and expect others to adapt to them. As Lingenfelter writes, “Time-oriented persons typically have specific objectives they want to accomplish within a given period. They will set a time within which they must finish a job or carry out a specific activity. People with this orientation often fill their time to its maximum potential. Their lives take on a frantic pace and are so filled with appointments that nothing can be done on the spur of the moment” (p.40). And I would add a Time-oriented leader who seeks to accommodate Event-oriented participants will likely get accused of inefficiency by those oriented to time!

The strength of Event-oriented people is in quality of relationships and decisions. “For them, meetings begin when the last person arrives and end when the last person leaves. Participation and completion are the central goals. For event-oriented people, playing the game is indeed more important than winning. They also differ in their style of managing problems or crises. Whereas time-oriented people will quickly grow weary of discussion and call for a vote, event-oriented people will exhaustively consider a problem, hearing all issues and deliberating until they reach unanimous agreement” (p. 42).

But (we argue), people who have risen to levels of leadership in mission organizations or denominations have adapted to western-style meetings and communications. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be in a position to attend. I wonder if that is as true as we assume, and I wonder what we are losing in expecting others to accommodate our blind assumption that our way is the best way.

In an multi-ethnic church setting, it must seem very abrupt to an Event-oriented participant for the worship service to end just when the Spirit was starting totouch hearts. The “event” was in mid-strength when it suddenly ran into the schedule. Commenting on the repetition of choruses which we Anglos often complain about, an African-American explained that in his culture, “We sing a song until we can feel it.”

When there are people with different orientations ministering together in the same group, the object is not to get the minority group to adapt to those in charge. Rather, there is an opportunity to draw on the substance that bridges the gap and draws forth the presence of Jesus more fully. I refer to humility. “An important key to effective cross-cultural ministry is an incarnational attitude toward time and event–we must adapt to the time and event priorities of the people with whom we work. When we Americans enter other cultures, however, we often bring a cultural blindness to this issue. We feel the urgency of time and orient our lives to reflect our own culture. God commands us, however, to do nothing out of self-centeredness but to consider others better than ourselves (Phil. 2:3-5) (p.50).

I often hear complaints that a “retreat” was so full of scheduled meetings that there was to sense of retreat. And when we ask each other how we are doing an inevitable answer is “I’m so busy.” This seems to be said in a combination of regret (I’m so tired) and pride (I’m so important). I know that I, a person very time oriented, has much to learn from those more event oriented. Both the schedule and the people are important.


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